Inevitably it happens. Your dog has to wear the dreaded cone of shame or e-collar. Most often it’s from getting neutered or spayed. We’ve had our boy, Gimli, for less than a year and have gone through 2 different rounds of e-collar time. Over those 4 total weeks, we’ve learned a few things on how to best manage a dog in a cone and keep him happy.
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Types of Collars
An Elizabethan collar, aka an e-collar or dog cone, prevents your dog from being able to lick, bite, or tear at incisions. It’s important that your dog leave wounds alone in order for them to heal. Collars can be soft or rigid, and there are inflatable ones too. The location of your dog’s wound, his flexibility, and desire to get to that wound play a role in what kind of collar you need. You may have to try a few to see what works for your dog.
Gimli is lanky, so to keep him from getting his back paws we used a hard collar as well as an inflatable collar, affectionately known as a donut. The dog neck donut restricts motion of the neck. This prevented Gimli from being able to bend to stick his bandaged foot in the cone. The donut prevented the hard collar from sliding around on his neck, and served as a pillow when he laid down.
Our vet sent Gimli home with an donut and a hard e-collar the first time. The second time we got a floppy e-collar. The vet’s hard collar had a velcro closure, and all Gimli had to do was ram it into the wall to pop the velcro open. It was also a cut to size one, and I was afraid if Gimli ran it up against our legs, we would get cut from those sharp plastic edges. The soft collar from the vet took no time for Gimli to figure out his way around.
We bought both of our hard collars at Petco and used them instead (in combination with the donut from the vet). Had Gimli not grown between surgeries we would have used the same collar. Petco also has soft e-collars and donuts.
Getting A Dog Cone On
We found putting the hard collar on to be quite difficult because Gimli actively avoided the cone. Because of that we didn’t take it off him for the most part. If the cone came off, he went for his bandages. Your dog may be able to resist the bandages so you can take the cone off when you’re around. We aired on the side of caution and kept Gimli’s e-collar on all the time, so he didn’t get to his wounds and end up having to wear it even longer.
The cone was easier to put on if he was in the car, hooked into his seat belt. He couldn’t escape us. This worked since Gimli is small enough we can lift him into the car (jumping is generally off limits with stitches). He also loves car rides and is calmer in the car. If your dog is wary of the car or has to jump in, this is not a good solution for you. Maybe try a small room, like a bathroom, to limit where your dog can escape to.
Manage Your Dog In a Cone
Our vet prescribed a sedative for Gimli to help keep him calm. During his neuter we needed to limit him from jumping and running. You can’t tell a 4-month old puppy he can’t run and jump. The sedative was a huge help. Our vet told us to adjust the dosage a bit based on Gimli’s mood and energy levels. The sedative make him calmer and more into walking rather than bounding everywhere. He was also snugglier.
The car wasn’t only handy for getting Gimli’s cone on, but it provided entertainment for him too. He enjoys riding in the car. His movement is restricted by his seat belt. It was a way for him to get out of the house without exerting a lot of energy. We took him on errands and traded off who stayed in the car with him.
Doing nose work takes thought and energy without a lot of movement from your dog. When your dog is on restricted movement, you spend a lot of time trying to tire him out without having him run around.
There are tons of ideas out there, but we mainly did two games. For the first you hold both your fists out (one of which has a treat) and ask your dog to find it. Open your palm when he chooses a hand. The other we did was a three cup monte with plastic cups covering a treat. The internet has TONS of nose games if your dog finds them fun.
Similar to nose games, training taxes your dog more mentally than it does physically. Working for treats by sitting, laying down, etc gives your pup something to do besides mope around. Plus they get treats out of it. We inadvertently trained in a nose boop to the thigh when Gimli was learning to sit. He boops us on the leg right before he sits. I ended up with more than one bruise on my legs from that stupid cone.
One of Gimli’s favorite games, cone or not, is to play chase. At the dog park he will bait other dogs to chase him, and does the same at home by prancing past me carrying a toy. Gimli doesn’t bound through the house when we play chase, rather he walks at whatever speed I chase him. Chase was good to get some exercise on rainy days that would get his sutures wet outside. If your dog is on restricted movement, or will not do this relatively calmly, chase may not be for you.
Sprinkle a few treats around the house for your dog to find. Give them extra time with their rawhide. Gimli couldn’t use his front paws, because of his cone, to hold anything small, like his yak cheese. But he could stand and gnaw on his rawhide. Find some extra special treats to spoil your dog with. Gimli couldn’t go to the dog park while in his cone, and was pretty restricted on walks so additional treats helped keep him happy.
More treats may not be the healthiest habit to keep up with for the long run, but they can help to keep your dog happy for a few weeks. Once your dog is cone free you can ease back into exercise to get them back in shape. We didn’t have any issues with Gimli putting on weight during his cone time though. Must be that young metabolism.
Configure Your House
Gimli struggled to navigate between our couch and coffee table with his extra volume from the cone. We scooted furniture around to help him. He could go up the 3 stairs to get into our front window, but struggled to go down in his cone. We moved his stairs, preventing him from using them at all. Gimli didn’t fit well in his crate with his extra bulky cone, so we set an ex pen up for him instead. It might be difficult to tell ahead of time what you’ll need to adjust for your pup. Keeping an extra eye on their navigation helps.
Of course giving your dog more love and affection goes without saying. His world is disrupted and he doesn’t understand what’s going on. As his main source of comfort, giving him extra snuggles, ear scruffs, and attention can help reassure him that he will be ok. This is also can be a bonding time for you and your pup.